Artistic Direction: As Lover of Fine Art, Ian Blatchford, the New FD at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Is Happily Mixing Business with Pleasure. He Explains to Cathy Hayward Why the Job Is Never a Case of Painting by Numbers. (Profile: Ian Blatchford)
Hayward, Cathy, Financial Management (UK)
Ian Blatchford finds it hard to get to his desk in the morning, and it's nothing to do with the journey from his south London home to his South Kensington office. With his passion for art, the new finance director of the Victoria and Albert Museum finds the V&A's 50,000 square metres of exhibition space a distracting, if stimulating, place to work.
"I often go wandering around the building and get hopelessly lost looking at all the amazing displays," he explains. "My PA despairs, because we don't allow mobile phones in the museum and she can't get hold of me."
The diversions don't end once he's made it beyond the door marked "Staffonly". Not only are the corridors lined with stunning paintings; Blatchford's office is also overlooked by Brompton Oratory and the sound of a practising choir drifts in through the sash windows on the afternoon breeze. "It can be very strange to be on the phone talking finance over the strains of AveMaria," he says.
An organisation the size of the V&A, which attracts 1.3 million visitors a year, requires a substantial back office. More than 660 people work at the museum, which is run as a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It operates at arm's length from the government, but is funded by grant aid, together with receipts from entrance charges to special exhibitions, sponsorships, charitable donations, legacies and bequests.
Under the terms of grant aid, the museum is required to break even, which is extremely difficult, according to Blatchford. "In theory we have to break even rather than make a surplus, but I try to interpret that flexibly because it's impossible to be so precise," he says. Last year the V&A generated a 1.7 million [pounds sterling] surplus owing to "project slippages".
"The reality is that all major national institutions like to build up some reserves. One of the ways we try to raise our profile and income is by running exhibitions, but they are risky and it's easy to make a big loss"
One of Blatchford's aims is to increase non-grant income through more special exhibitions, the museum shop, catering operations and licensing income. And he is keen to raise more money from individual donations. He also plans to make major changes to the V&A's financial reporting. There are several things that hinder the way arts organisations operate which don't happen in a commercial environment, Blatchford says. The SORP 2000 rules, which apply to all charities, are controversial in the arts world, because they are designed for organisations that build up huge reserves.
"What this means," he explains, "is that we spend an enormous amount of time producing accounts that are difficult for trustees to understand and misleading for donors."
Blatchford wants to make the V&A's reporting to government more meaningful and to increase the quality and frequency of management reporting and forecasting. As part of this drive, he aims to introduce a three-to-five-year plan.
"Much of our planning is on a yearly basis, but some of the big decisions we make about building projects mean that you need a long-term view," he says. "The classic danger is to focus on the glamorous projects such as new buildings and wings and not think about things like increased running costs. And these shiny new projects then become a real drain on the organisation"
Procurement is another of Blatchford's key responsibilities and an area where the museum's relationship with the government presents big challenges. The complicated and rigid tendering procedures that publicly funded bodies must follow are crippling, he complains. "The leaping through hoops that goes on in public-sector procurement makes it hard for us to follow the trend in the private sector to build partnerships with suppliers and get good long-term deals. You have to interpret the rules as flexibly as possible. …